A US military expert is playing down the threat to Taiwan of China’s new DF-21D ballistic anti-ship missile, which is said to be capable of sinking an aircraft carrier.
Four-star US Admiral Robert Willard, commander of the US Pacific Command, made headlines earlier this week when he revealed for the first time that the missile was now in the early stages of deployment.
There are widespread fears the missile could be a “game changer” and that it could deny the US access to the seas around Taiwan, making it impossible for Washington to dispatch an aircraft carrier group to help defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.
The Financial Times of London reported that the missile could force US aircraft carriers to “stay away from waters where China does not want to see them.”
“These include the Taiwan Strait, where a potential conflict could develop over the self-ruled island which China claims,” it said.
However, defense analyst John Pike, founder of the Washington-based think tank Global Security, told the Taipei Times: “The Pentagon can counter this missile. We would know that it was aimed at the carrier; why would we doubt our ability to shoot it down before it reached target?”
“You are going to have to fire several interceptors per incoming warhead, making the economics less palatable, but we have the money,” he said. “This missile is not a game changer. It will not stop us defending Taiwan.”
“But there isn’t going to be a war anyway because President Ma [Ying-jeou (馬英九)] is getting sucked back into the mainland. That’s the game changer,” Pike said.
“If the Chinese launched an invasion of Taiwan, the US military would send an aircraft carrier. They are on automatic pilot to do that. If the Chinese in their infinite wisdom sank the thing, with massive loss of life — bigger than Pearl Harbor and 9/11 combined — there would be no more dithering in Washington,” he said.
“America would want payback. And that’s where you get to when you game this thing out. Would Beijing want to go there?” he said.
Mark Stokes, executive director at the Project 2049 Institute, who has written extensively on the DF-21D, also believes the missile can be countered.
“The missile has the potential to complicate US ability to intervene in the event of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait, but my impression is that the [US] Department of Defense can take action to counter it. We could go after the targeting systems, for example,” he said.
Rick Fisher of the International Assessment and Strategy Center sounded a cautious note.
“The deployment of a working anti-ship ballistic missile shifts the balance of power in a manner threatening to Taiwan and other Asian democracies. The US military currently lacks a decisive weapon that can defend ships, meaning it must attack Chinese missiles on land or guidance systems in space, all of which is most destabilizing,” he said.
The Financial Times said the land-based missile was designed to target and track aircraft carrier groups with the help of satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles and over-the-horizon radar.
Earlier this year there were reports that the DF-21D was undergoing extensive testing, that China had started production of missile motors and that it was eventually to be deployed at a nuclear base near Shaoguan in Guangdong Province.
Still, defense analysts believed its deployment was years away.